My other mother is in town and I remember that vacation for both of us means less sleep and more play, but when I get woken at 6:00 am to take Caleb to work I can’t help but feel that we are running late. Today is Saturday and Caleb has duty, so we will drop him off, have some fun, then come back later for a tour of the boat. We say goodbye to him at the closest gate to his boat and make our way to Bruegger’s Bagels where we will order an iced salted caramel coffee for me and a hot half-regular, half-caramel coffee for Caroline.
With some caffeine in our systems it’s time to explore. I drive close to the piers so Caroline can get a better view of the different kinds of ships. She sees one that draws her attention and we notice a green-white-green vertical striped flag with a golden crown in the middle. We have no luck finding the country on Google and make a note to ask Caleb later. I drive off the base and take some random turns. I enjoy seeing a different side of San Diego – still possible after two years of living here.
I park us in the shade by the Spanish Art Village at Balboa Park at 8:00 am. We are one of three cars here. We walk around inside and vendors are setting up booths outside their normal shops for the Art Glass Guild Show and Sale. I remember that I forgot my coffee in the car and Caroline is glad to grab her jacket while we are at the car. The temperature is in the 60s with heavy clouds overhead. We have two hours before the museums open, but the two of us have no trouble finding an endless supply of entertainment – things to photograph, talk to, and feed.
We walk through the cacti garden and around, then to the rose garden to stick our noses in the different colored blooms – the ones without busy bees. I’m loving the silence of our surroundings while in a popular place on a weekend in a large city. We walk past the large fountain in front of the Fleet Science Center and down some stairs to El Prado Blvd. where we meet a pit-Dalmatian mix. We learn that he lost two fights with an Akita, but aren’t sure at the end of the conversation whether they are still roommates or not.
There are men setting up telescopes looking towards the sun – now covered in clouds – in hopes that the sky will clear up. We continue on to look at architecture, the lily pond in front of the Botanical Building, and the art inside and out of the Mingei Museum. There’s a brave squirrel in the grass that gets close to us in the street to inspect a smashed bug. We might’ve gotten more time together if it wasn’t for the car careening around corners. All three of us jump out of the way.
In front of us is a boardwalk that goes through some trees to a parking lot or down the stairs to more trail. We see another brave squirrel and Caroline pulls some airplane pretzels out of her purse. We figure we will set one on a nearby post and then wait to take a picture. The squirrel has another idea in mind. He bypasses the little piece of bait and hops on the post nearest Caroline where she is able to hand him a pretzel. It is so awesome to be able to hear him crunch through this bite-size morsel.
Moments weren’t made to last forever and this one is no different. We don’t get to see him finish his snack as a couple with two large dogs walk by and the squirrel goes flying down to the tree below. I can’t blame them as I’m sure Sparky has been the cause for ruin of more than one scene for fellow travelers and those that enjoy interacting with nature on their terms – especially the larger or more poisonous the animals are. We walk to the construction site of the Cabrillo Bridge that is being retrofitted and then make our way back past the large fountain and back to the Glass Show that has more going on at 9:30 am.
Glass has been blown, twisted, torched, and stained into plates, bees, paperweights, jewelry, and plants. We eye a few things we want, but Caroline doesn’t have room to fly with it and I’m supposed to be moving soon, so we continue on and stare at the Moreton Bay Fig tree – that used to be climbable, has an estimated girth of 42 feet, and an age of over 100 years – for a minute while waiting on the Natural History Museum (one of my favorite) to open.
Once inside we share some Clif crunch bars that crumble near the food court. We make our way into the San Diego native animals room where we debate whether the Speckled rattlesnake is alive and whether he has a rattle attached. We leave in agreement that it is alive and hope that all the stuffed animals were caught on their death-bed or released from their cages to be stuck in this museum. Dead animals can’t suffer – or eat or get sick – zoos should take a hint.
The next area was the fossils of dinosaurs where I recognized a skull I posted a picture of when Caleb and I came to see the gem exhibit. Caroline really enjoyed interacting with the Euoplocephalus. I’m glad to see that scientists don’t miss out on sexual innuendoes and that Caroline is not shy about some hands-on learning. We went to the second floor where the Real Pirates exhibit starts. We walked into a small room with a screen and stood wondering if we would walk through one of the other two doors available. Our question was answered quickly when a guy closed the door to darken the room and the screen began the introduction video.
After the presentation the screen lifted and revealed a real bell recovered from the 14 feet of water and five feet of sand that still covered it near Cape Cod where the Whydah sank almost 300 years ago. Two strong swimmers out of the 144 men on board lived to tell the tale of the slave-turned-pirate ship of Sam Bellamy. We learned that this is the first authenticated pirate shipwreck and treasure ever found in U.S. territory. It was neat to learn about the boy who died living out his dreams of running away with pirates. We learned about the meaning of flags and the weight of the cannons. We got to see books with stories, a chest with treasure, and a hanging device to warn other pirates of the danger of being caught.
We went to the third floor to see the skulls of animals from hummingbird to rabbit to rhino. The ones I liked best were the horned lizard, great horned owl, and the toucan. Caroline got to work drawing me in bird form on the chalk board with a skeletal rendition of Sparky and the pirate-shark plane she rode in on. There is a color-coded case comparing the skull bones of human, condor, dolphin, etc. It’s neat to learn about the varying sizes of nasal and lacrimal bones that nature made to accommodate each animals needs.
The fourth floor is empty, except for the model Balboa Park Carousel, and we make our way to the lower level to finish seeing the Real Pirate exhibit. There is no photography allowed which makes us concentrate more on remembering the different cuff links, belt buckles, and guns with designs that were found. I’m overwhelmed by the great condition these items are in and especially enjoy the map that is laid out on a table in the ship model as I imagine what life was like sailing the seas with these thieves as they stole to make a living.
It felt weird coming from the dark below to the brightly lit lobby, but not before stopping in the Alex and Elizabeth Wise Museum Store – partly for the namesake and partly so Caroline could find something useful and memorable of her visit. We are innocently checking out a pink t-shirt when this large, green, spotted snake jumps off the shelf and around Caroline’s neck who has the reflexes of a wounded mongoose and is able to win the battle and throw the snake to the ground in defeat. She finds a cute bag to disguise some of her fiber arts addiction and we are on to something else.
Outside, we decide to check out the life-size carousel. Tickets are $2.50 per adult and we choose the ostriches to carry us on this adventure. Parents are strapping their kids in while I read the sign about not jumping on and off while the ride is in motion. We are having so much fun going up and down and trying to hold on with one hand while taking pictures with the other without dropping our phones. Caroline points out the Herschell Spillman Co. Builders N. Tonawanda, N.Y. USA sign and recalls the engine in Denmark that was made in Buffalo, NY.
All this fun has given us both an appetite – enough to share a jalapeño popper grilled cheese sandwich at The Village Grill. We got in line just in time as there are no table for us to sit at, but the length of people waiting to order has increased. We find a spot in the shade to eat our jalapeños and shredded cheese on burnt white toast – I’m not disappointed. Once we get comfortable on the ground a man nearby offers for us to sit at his table while his family waits in line – no thanks, we already asked you and got denied.
We make our way back to El Prado to go to another museum, but not before listening to the guy playing the didgeridoo next to the telescopes pointed at the sun that is now shining brightly uncovered in the sky. Today is Astronomy Day so the SDAA has come out to give us simpletons the opportunity to see solar prominences and sun spots. One girl looks into the scope and pulls back quickly with an air of disappointment that she didn’t see anything, but when I look in I’m utterly amazed and so grateful that this day has happened. An average prominence is over 60,000 miles long, enough to wrap around the diameter of Earth ten times, and I’m here to witness it in action.
Some people might be satisfied with just looking once, but in order to be amazed over and over again without creating a line we go to each sun-scope to catch a glimpse of the sun adjusted differently by each volunteer – so close and personal, but still just a glowing ball of fire about 93 million miles from Earth, or just a measly 8.3 light minutes in the distance. We get invited to come back in the evening to look at the moon, Jupiter, and some stars. They have viewings on the first Wednesday of each month and other events throughout the year.
We choose the Mingei International as our next museum to see the art of brothers, Steven and William Ladd, but not before going through the gift shop to look at all the things we could buy. These guys started out making purses in artistic boxes and then moved on to using the scrap material to make storytelling art – including jewelry, chandeliers, and sculptures – that remind them of pieces of their childhood. Their art installation is easy to move with – the simple box on the outside opens to reveal the collaborated crafts on the inside.
There’s plenty more to this museum and we meet a curator just as interested in masks as we are of the large bird-like one hanging from the ceiling longer than we are tall. There are other masks that resemble bums, goblins, ancestors, and animals. There is a two-story doll house with intricate details, a red ceramic cup with tentacles, and a table of jewelry throughout time. Another exhibit focuses on Huyler’s Candy Co. started in the 1870s – once the largest chocolate maker in the U.S. – and no longer a household name.
There were the usual valentine tins, but this company made maps so you could find the store that sold their candy in mini: boots, guitars, and suitcases. And over one hundred years later I can agree that traveling and chocolate go well together, but no processed cocoa beans will be bought before we walk in the sunshine of Balboa Park again. This time we moseyed over to the Botanical Building to look at, gently touch, and get whiffs of motley colored flowers. It is here, among the greenery, that Caroline gives me a piece of her mind – I am awesome to hang out with – to stare at large paintings, bulky sculptures, solar flares, and tiny petals with.
To hide the emotions I pretend it’s the misters that are attacking my face and that upon our return outside it’s the sun that is too bright that makes my face glisten with eye sweat. I’m so grateful that after all these years we are getting some much-needed us time together. Out the door and the reflection pond has ducks and turtles sunbathing by its side, lily pads floating on its surface, and pieces of tree and clouds caught in its ripples. Having lunch on the grass nearby are the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. I didn’t know there was a local chapter, but Caroline got her picture taken with some while we chatted them up. I love their colorful and creative outfits – perhaps a future inspiration.
Soon it will be time to visit Caleb, but not before we cool our mouths off with some ice cream – boring and unflavored vanilla for me, and a chocolate-vanilla swirl for Caroline. I take bites out of mine to keep the melting cream in the cone. With all that’s piled on top if we wait too long it will begin to make the bottom weak. We make it to the boat at 6pm and Caleb is excited for the Rubio’s fish tacos and veggie burrito along with his seabag that we brought him to pack up his belongings for the ship transfer.
Caleb is happy we are here and quickly goes into tour guide mode showing Caroline the SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus for putting out a fire) and the different mechanical parts of the loud engineering space with Caroline asking pertinent questions. Next on the to-see list is the waste operation – from where the men drop it off to where the ship macerates it and then mixes it with salt water for release into the ocean when out to sea or transferred to a sewage site on shore while the ship is moored. This calls for my husband and my dad’s wife to go into a tiny and stinky little toilet stall together to get a closer look at this operation.
We climb outside to get a chance to shoot an invisible 50-caliber machine gun and Caleb ensures we wear a helmet for safety. Before evening colors (national ensign lowering ceremony) Caleb shows Caroline the outdoor gym and the life rafts. When we were driving on base we noticed an oddly shaped ship. After we said goodnight to Caleb we drove back by to find out it was the USS Coronado – after we had asked Caleb and Mr. Richmond (the Officer of the Deck) for help. Caleb had tried looking it up in the Jane’s manual, but we obviously had him searching on the wrong pages.
Dinner was at BJ’s. We shared a brussels sprout salad, roasted veggie and goat cheese flatbread, and avocado egg rolls. We enjoyed some riveting conversation while stuffing our faces with food and new-to-us drinks to moisten our choppers for more chewing. When we got home at 9:30 there was a spider on the wall and Sparky was sleeping in the middle of Caroline’s bed – the one we had taken the time to air up before we left incase we were feeling sluggish upon our return. I believe it will need to be patched in the future by Caleb – not now while Caroline looks forward to stretching out her legs on its green surface after a day of walking.